Chess: positional play

The tutor reflects on his evolving chess experience.

When I played chess as a kid, I knew little about it. Eventually I came to believe that tactical finesse was the key to winning. For me, in those early days, it was. I managed to win often against my peers, just by developing my pieces in a more coordinated manner. While I likely took it more seriously than they did, it wasn’t a passion for me, either – rather, a pastime.

At university I met people in the coffee shop who took chess much more seriously than I did. They had read books about it; some also had what I’d call “training.” I was no match for one or two of them; moreover, I couldn’t understand why.

A couple of decades later, I took up chess again. I promptly hit the same wall from twenty years earlier: I couldn’t beat GNU Chess, even on the Easy level. (I have since beaten it many times. However, the fact remains: GNU Chess, Easy level, isn’t “easy” to beat unless you’re quite an experienced player. You can read more about GNU Chess in my post here.)

Finding myself unable to win against GNU chess, I realized I needed to learn how to beat it; I needed training. I turned to chess commentators on Youtube. (You can read my article about them here.) I also read some books.

In the commentaries about playing effective chess, the words “position” and “squares” are prominent. They don’t talk about forming a combination to achieve checkmate; rather, they discuss placing pieces on good squares in order to improve the player’s position. The good squares are mainly centre ones. To the experts, the goal in chess is to gradually gain control of the key squares. By doing so, a player can improve their position to a winning one.

I’d always been told about the importance of the central squares in chess. However, I’d never thought about chess from the experts’ point of view. Their theme – called positional play – is much more subtle than how I’d perceived the game. Yet, it’s undoubtedly how a strong computer chess program plays.

Only recently do I understand positional play to the point of applying it. As Sean Godley of Killegar Chess points out, “It takes years of experience to judge the quality of a position.”


Killegar Chess

Pachman, Ludek. Modern Chess Strategy. New York: Dover Publications, 1963.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

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